Page:The American Review Volume 02.djvu/285

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The Bhagvat Geeta—Doctrine of Immortality.


It is written in the Vedas, "The soul should be known, that is, it should be distinguished from nature; for then it will not return, it will not return." In this passage, under a form peculiar to the East, we find the enunciation of one of the fundamental problems of philosophy (that of the immortality of the soul) with an indication of its solution. It is the general belief of the Orientals, that the soul of a dying man, after leaving this present body, will be born again into the world under some new form. A man, in his next body, may be a horse, or a dog, and this re-birth, whether in the old or under a new form, is the return of the soul. The expiation of certain crimes consists, according to the description in the laws of Menû, in the soul's living a thousand successive lives, in the bodies of a thousand different spiders. This is a specimen of the return. The prospect, therefore, is by no means agreeable, and we cannot wonder that the whole force of the Oriental mind should have been directed to the discovery of some means whereby the return of the soul might be avoided.

But, before we go further, let us examine this doctrine of the transmigration of souls, to see whether it really be so devoid of plausibility as we sometimes suppose. In all ages of the world there have been philosophers who held that the soul built the body, that is, that the character and form of the body was dependent on the character of the soul. The diametrically opposite doctrine is, indeed, more fashionable at this time, for many of our phrenologists and other materialists, believe that it is the body which builds the soul, that is, that the soul is a function of (dependent upon) some portion of the organism,—say the brain for example. An appeal is made, in both cases, to observation and experience, the phrenologist, from an examination of the skull, will give a pretty shrewd guess as to the character of its owner; the idealist will call our attention to the fact that the indulgence of certain passions will alter the conformation of the face, the expression of the figure. The man who acquires the disposition of a fox, will begin to look like a fox—will begin to become a fox as far as such a transformation is compatible with human nature. It is in the nature of Spirit, says the Idealist, to express itself in some form, and, as we are all rendered free at death, why should we not, in the next birth, take the form best adapted to express our inward natures? Why should not the man, who is, in heart, a fox, take, in the next birth, the outward form of a fox? why should not a fierce bloody man be born the next time as a bull-dog; and a woman, who has no desire, except for dress and display, be born as a peacock? Are their souls immortal? Yes, verily, but their present natures will remain with them, for their happiness or misery, throughout eternity. Conversely, a man of pure and angelic character begins inevitably to present a pure and angelic appearance, the countenance becomes placid, the manner sedate, and the soul of the man transforms the body till it becomes as angelic as is compatible with its present relations. And when it assumes a new form after death, what shall prevent it from assuming the one most appropriate to its nature?

Our Transcendentalists, hold not only that the soul builds the body, but that it builds all things, God, the universe, the body, other men, &c. "In the order of thought (says Mr. Emerson,) the materialist takes his departure from the external world, and esteems a man as one product of that. The Idealist takes his departure from his consciousness, and reckons the world as an appearance.... The experience of the Idealist inclines him to behold the procession of facts you call the world, as flowing perpetually outward from an invisible unsounded centre in himself, centre alike of him and of them, and necessitating him to regard all things as having a subjective or relative value, relative to that aforesaid unknown centre of him." This doctrine of Mr. Emerson leads either to a denial of a future life, or to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls; for if the soul builds the body, and continues to live, it must inevitably assume, in the next state, a form appropriate to its nature. But, why, you ask, may not a Transcendentalist say that the soul assumes a spiritual body, in the old-fashioned heaven? If the Transcendentalist takes this ground, he will furnish at once the means, not